The Scottish Chiefs
The following is from The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter:
Chapter LXIV - Forest of Vincennes
Avoiding the frequented track to Paris, Wallace (to whom Grimsby was now a valuable auxiliary, he being well acquainted with the country) took a sequestered path by the banks of the Marne, and entered the Forest of Vincennes just as the moon set. Having ridden far, and without cessation, the old soldier proposed their alighting, to allow the lady an opportunity of reposing awhile under the trees. Helen was indeed nearly exhausted, though the idea of her happy flight, by inspiring her with a strength which surprised even herself, for a long time had kept her insensible to fatigue. While her friends pressed on with a speed which allowed no more conversation than occasional inquiries of how she bore the journey, the swiftness of the motion and the rapidity of the events which had brought her from the most frightful of situations into one the dearest to her secret and hardly-breathed wishes, so bewildered her faculties, that hse almost feared she was only enjoying one of those dreams which since her captivity had often mocked her with the image of Wallace and her release; and every moment she dreaded to awake and find herself still a prisoner to De Valence. "I want no rest," replied she to the observation of Grimsby; "I could feel none till we are beyond the possibility of being overtaken by my enemy."
"You are as safe in this wood, lady," returned the soldier, "as you can be in any place betwixt Galliard and Paris. It is many miles from the chateau, and lies in so remote a direction, that were the earl to pursue us, I am sure he would never choose this path."
"And did he even come up with us, dear Lady Helen," said Wallace, "could you fear, when with your father's friend?"
"It is for my father's friend I fear," gently answered she; "I can have no dread for myself while under such protection."
A very little more persuaded Helen; and Grimsby having spread his cloak on the grass, Wallace lifted her from her horse. As soon as she put her foot to the ground her head grew giddy, and she must have fallen but for the supporting arm of her watchful friend. He carried her to the couch prepared by the good soldier, and laid her on it. Grimsby had been more provident than they could have expected; for after saddling the second pair of horses, he had returned into the hall for his cloak, and taking an undrawn flask of wine from the seneschal's supper-table, put it into his vest. This he now produced, and Wallace made Helen drink some of it. The cordial soon revived her, and sinking on her pillow of leaves, she soon found the repose her wearied frame demanded and induced. For fear of disturbing her not a word was spoken. Wallace watched at her head, and Bruce sat at her feet, while Grimsby remained with the horses, as a kind of outpost.
Sweet was her sleep, for the thoughts with which she sunk into slumber occupied her dreams. Still she was riding by the side of Wallace, listening to his voice, cheering her through the lengthening way! But some wild animal in its nightly prowl crossing before the horses, they began to snort and plunge, and though the no less terrified alarmer fled far away, it was with difficulty the voice and management of Grimsby could quiet them. The noise suddenly awoke Helen, and her scattered faculties not immediately recollecting themselves, she felt an instant impression that all had indeed been a dream, and starting in affright, she exclaimed, "Where am I? Wallace, where art thou?"
"Here!" cried he, pressing her hand with fraternal tenderness; "I am here; you are safe with your friend and brother."
Her heart beat with a terror which this assurance could hardly subdue. At last she said in an agitated voice, "Forgive me if my senses are a little strayed! I have suffered so much, and this release seems so miraculous, that at moments I hardly believe it real. I wish daylight were come that I might be convinced." When she had uttered these words, she suddenly stopped, and then added, "But I am very weak to talk thus; I believe my late terrors have disordered my head."
"What you feel, lady, is only natural," observed Bruce; "I experienced the same when I first regained my liberty, and found myself on the road to join Sir William Wallace. Dear, indeed, is liberty; but dearer is the friend whose virtues make our recovered freedom sure."
"Who speaks to me?" said Helen, in a low voice to Wallace, and raising her head from that now supporting arm, on which she felt she did but too much delight to lean.
"One," answered Wallace, in the same tone, "who is not to be publicly known until occasion demands it; one who, I trust in God, will one day seal the happiness of Scotland--Robert Bruce."
That name which, when in her idea it belonged to Wallace, used to raise such emotions in her breast, she now heard with an indifference that surprised her. But who could be more to Scotland than Wallace had been? All that was in the power of patriot or of king to do for his country, he had done; and what then was Bruce in her estimation? One who, basking in pleasures while his country suffered, allowed a brave subject to breast, to overthrow every danger, before he put himself forward? and now he appeared to assume a throne, which, though his right by birth, he had most justly forfeited, by neglecting the duties indispensable in the heir of so great and oppressed a kingdom! These would have been her thoughts of him; but Wallace called this Bruce his friend! and the few words she had heard him speak, being full of gratitude to her deliverer, that engaged her esteem.
The answer, however, which she made to the reply of Wallace was spontaneous, and it struck upon the heart of Bruce. "How long," said she, "have you promised Scotland that it should see that day!"
"Long, to my grief, Lady Helen," rejoined Bruce; "I would say to my shame--had I ever intentionally erred toward my country; but ignorance of her state, and of the depth of Edward's treachery, was my crime. I only required to be shown the right path to pursue it, and Sir William Wallace came to point the way. My soul, lady, is not unworthy the destiny to which he calls me." Had there been light, she would have seen the flush of conscious virtue that overspread his fine countenance while he spoke; but the words were sufficient to impress her with that respect he deserved, and which her answer showed.
"My father taught me to consider the Bruce the rightful heirs of Scotland; and now that I see the day which he so often wished to hail, I cannot but regard it as the termination of Scotland's woes. Oh! had it been before! perhaps--" Here she paused, for tears stopped her utterance.
"You think," rejoined Bruce, "that much bloodshed might have been spared! But, dear lady, poison not the comfort of your life by that belief. No man exists who could have effected so much for Scotland in so short a time, and with so little loss, as our Wallace has done. Who, like him, makes mercy the companion of war, and compels even his enemies to emulate the clemency he shows? Fewer have been slain on the Scottish side during the whole of his struggle with Edward, than were lost by Baliol on the fatal day of Dunbar. Then, no quarter was given; and too many of the wounded were left to perish on the field. But with Wallace, life was granted to all who asked; the wounded enemy and the friend were alike succored by him. This conduct provoked the jealousy of the Southron generals, not to be surpassed in generosity, and thus comparatively few have been lost. But if in that number some of our noblest chiefs, we must be resigned to yield to God what is his own; may, we must be grateful, daughter of the gallant Mar, for the manner in which they were taken. They fell in the arms of true glory, like parents defending their offspring; while others--my grandfather and father--perished with broken hearts, in unavailing lamentations that they could not share the fate of those who died for Scotland."
"But you, dear Bruce," returned Wallace, "will live for her; will teach those whose hearts have bled in her cause, to find a balm for every wound in her prosperity."
Helen smiled through her tears at those words. They spoke the heavenly consolation which had descended on her mourning spirit. "If Scotland be to rest under the happy reign of Robert Bruce, then envy cannot again assail Sir William Wallace, and my father has not shed his blood in vain. His beautified spirit, with those of my uncles Bothwell and Ruthven, will rejoice in such a peace, and I shall enjoy it to felicity, in so sacred a participation. Surprised at her associating the name of Lord Ruthven with those who had fallen, Wallace interrupted her with the assurance of her uncle's safety. The Scottish chiefs easily understood that De Valence had given her the opposite intelligence, to impress her with an idea that she was friendless, and so precipitate her into the determination of becoming his wife. But she did not repeat to her brave auditors all the arguments he had used to shake her impregnable heart--impregnable, because a principle kept guard there, which neither flattery nor ambition could dispossess. He had told her that the very day in which she would give him her hand, King Edward would send him viceroy into Scotland, where she should reign with all the power and magnificence of a queen. He was handsome, accomplished, and adored her; but Helen could not love him whom she could not esteem, for she knew he was libertine, base and cruel. That he loved her affected her not; she could only be sensible to an affection placed on worthy foundations; and he who trampled on all virtues in his own actions, could not desire them when seen in her; he therefore must love her for the fairness of her form alone; and to place any value on such affection was to grasp the wind.
Personal flatteries having made no impression on Helen, ambitious projects were attempted with equal failure. Had De Valence been lord of the eastern and western empires, could he have made her the envy and admiration of a congregated world, all would have been in vain; she had seen and known the virtues of Sir William Wallace; and from that hour, all that was excellent in man, and all that was desirable on earth, seemed to her to be in him summed up. "On the barren heath," said she to herself, "in some desert island, with only thee and thy virtues, how happy could be Helen Mar! how great! For, to share thy heart--thy thy noble, glorious heart--would be a bliss, a seal of honor from Heaven, with which no terrestrial elevation could compare!" Then would she sigh; capable of appreciating and loving above all earthly things the matchless virtues of Sir William Wallace. On the very evening of the night in question in which he had so unexpectedly appeared to release her, her thoughts had been engaged in this train: "Yes," cried she to herself, "even in loving thy perfections there is such enjoyment, that I would rather be as I am--what others might call the hopeless Helen, than the loving and beloved of any other man on earth. In thee I love virtue; and the imperishable sentiment will bless me in the world to come." With these thoughts she had fallen asleep; she dreamed that she called on her father, on Wallace to save her, and on opening her eyes, she had found him indeed near.
Every word which this almost adored friend now said to comfort her with regard to her own immediate losses, to assure her of the peace of Scotland, should Heaven bless the return of Bruce, took root in her soul, and sprung up into resignation and happiness. She listened to the plans of Wallace and of Bruce to effect their great enterprise, and the hours of the night passed to her not only in repose, but in enjoyment. Wallace, though pleased with the interest she took in even the minutest details of their design, became fearful of overtasking her weakened frame; he whispered Bruce to gradually drop the conversation; and, as it died away, slumber again stole over her eyelids.
The dawn had spread far over the sky while she yet slept. Wallace sat contemplating her, and the now sleeping Bruce, who had also imperceptibly sunk to rest. Various and anxious were his meditations. He had hardly seen seven-and-twenty years, yet so had he been tried in the vicissitudes of life, that he felt as if he had lived a century; and instead of looking on the lovely Helen as on one whose charms might claim a lover's lovely Helen as on one whose charms might claim a lover's wishes in his breast, he regarded her with sentiments more like parental tenderness. That, indeed, seemed the affection which now reigned in his bosom. He felt as a father toward Scotland. For every son and daughter of that harassed country, he was ready to lay down his life. Edwin he cherished in his heart as he would have done the dearest of his own offspring. It was as a parent to whom a beloved and prodigal son had returned, that he looked on Bruce. But Helen, of all Scotland's daughters, she was the most precious in his eyes; set love aside, and no object without the touch of that all-pervading passion could he regard with more endearing tenderness than he did Helen Mar.
The shades of night vanished before the bright uprise of the king of day, and with them her slumbers. She stirred; she awoke. The lark was then soaring with shrill cadence over her head; its notes pierced the ear of Bruce, and he started on his feet.
"You have allowed me to sleep, Wallace?"
"And why not?" replied he. "Here it was safe for all to have slept. Yet had there been danger, I was at my post to have called you." He gently smiled as he spoke.
"Whence, my friend," cried Bruce, with a respondent beam on his countenance, "did you draw the ethereal essence that animates your frame? You toil for us--watch for us, and yet you never seem fatigued, never discomposed! How is this? What does it mean?"
"That the soul is immortal," answered Wallace; "that it has a godlike power given to it by the Giver of all good, even while on earth, to subdue the wants of this mortal frame. The circumstances in which Heaven has cast me, have disciplined my circumstances in which Heaven has cast me, have disciplined my body to obey my mind in all things; and, therefore, when the motives for exertion are strong within me, it is long, very long, before I feel hunger, thirst, or drowsiness. Indeed, while thus occupied, I have often thought it possible for the activity of the soul so to wear the body, that some day she might find it suddenly fall away from about her spiritual substance, and leave her unencumbered, without having felt the touch of death. And yet, that Elisha-like change," continued Wallace, following up on his own thought, "could not be till Heaven sees the appointed time. 'Man does not live by bread alone;' neither by sleep, nor any species of refreshment. His Spirit alone, who created all things, can give us a rest, while we keep the strictest vigils; His power can sustain the wasting frame, even in a barren wilderness."
"True," replied Helen, looking timidly up: "but, because Heaven is so gracious as sometimes to work miracles in our favor, surely we are not authorized to neglect the natural means of obtaining the same end?"
"Certainly not," returned Wallace; "it is not for man to tempt God at any time. Sufficient for us it is to abide by His all-wise dispensations. When we are in circumstances that allow the usual means of life, it is demanded of us to use them. But when we are brought into situations where watching, fasting, and uncommon toils are not to be avoided, then it is an essential part of our obedience to perform our duties to the end, without any regard to the wants which may impede our way. It is in such an hour, when the soul of man, resolved to obey, looks down on human nature and looks up to God, that he receives both the manna and the ever-living waters of heaven. By this faith and perseverance, the uplifted hands of Moses prevailed over Amalek in Rephidim; and by the same did the lengthened race of the sun light Joshua to a double victory in Gibeon."
The morning vapors having dispersed from the opposite plain, and Helen being refreshed by her long repose, Wallace seated her on horseback, and they recommenced their journey. The helmets of both chiefs were now open. Grimsby looked at one and the other; the countenances of both assured him that he should find a protector in either. He drew toward Helen; she noticed his manner, and observing to Wallace that she believed the soldier wished to speak with her, checked her horse. At this action, Grimsby presumed to ride up, and bowing respectfully, said, that before he followed her to Paris, it would be right for the Count de Valois to know whom he had taken into his train; "one, madam, who has been degraded by King Edward; degraded," added he, "but not debased; that last disgrace depends on myself; and I should shrink from your protection rather than court it, were I indeed vile."
"You have too well proved your integrity, Grimsby," replied Helen, "to doubt it now; but what has the Count de Valois to do with your being under my protection? It is not to him we go, but to the French king."
"And is not that knight with the diadem," inquired Grimsby, "the Count de Valois? The servants at Chateau Galliard told me he was so."
Surprised at this, Helen said the knight should answer for himself; and quickening the step of her horse, followed by Grimsby, rejoined his side.
When she informed Wallace of what had passed, he called the soldier to approach. "Grimsby," said he, "you have claims upon me which should insure you my protection were I even insensible to the honorable principles you have just declared to Lady Helen. But, I repeat, I am already your friend. You have only to speak, and all in my power to serve you shall be done."
"Then, sir," returned he, "as mine is rather a melancholy story, and parts of it have already drawn tears from Lady Helen, if you will honor me with your attention apart from her, I would relate how I fell into disgrace with my sovereign."
Wallace fell a little back with Grimsby; and while Bruce and Helen rode briskly forward, he, at a slower pace, prepared to listen to the recapitulation of scenes in which he was only too deeply interested. The soldier began by narrating the fatal events at Ellerslie, which had compelled him to leave the army in Scotland. He related that after quitting the priory of St. Fillan, he reached Guienne, and there served under the Earl of Lincoln, until the marriage of Edward with King Philip's sister gave the English monarch quiet possession of that province. Grimsby then marched with the rest of the troops to join their sovereign in Flanders. There he was recognized, and brought to judgment by one of Heselrigge's captains; one who had been a particular favorite with the tyrant from their similarity of disposition, and to whom he had told the mutiny and desertion (as he called it) of Grimsby. But on the presentation of the Earl of Lincoln, his punishment was mitigated from death to the infliction of a certain number of lashes. This sentence, which the honest officer regarded as worse than the loss of life, was executed. On stripping him at the halberts, Lady Helen's gift, the diamond clasp, was found hanging round his neck; this was seized as a proof of some new crime; his general now gave him up; and so inconsistent were his judges, that while they allowed this treason (for so they stigmatized his manly resentment of Heselrigge's cruelty) to prejudice them in this second charge, they would not believe what was so probable, that this very jewel had been given to him by a friend of Sir William Wallace in reward for his behavior on that occasion. He appealed to Edward, but he appealed in vain; and on the following day he was adjudged to be broken on the wheel for the supposed robbery.
Every heart was callous to his sufferings, but that of the wife of his jailer; who, fancying him like a brother of hers, who had been killed ten years before in Italy, at the dead of the night she opened his prison doors. He fled into Normandy; and, without a home, outlawed, branded as a traitor and a thief, he was wandering half-desperate one stormy night on the banks of the Marne, when a cry of distress attracted his attention. It issued from the suit of De Valence, on his way to Guienne. Scared at the tempest, the female attendants of Lady Helen had abandoned themselves to shrieks of despair; but she, insensible to anything but grief, lay in perfect stillness in the litter that conveyed her. As Grimsby approached the travelers, De Valence demanded his assistance to conduct them to a place of shelter. Chateau Galliard was the nearest residence fit to receive the earl and his train. Thither the soldier led them, and heard from the servants that the lady in the vehicle was their lord's wife, and a lunatic. Grimsby remained in the chateau, because he had nowhere else to go; and by accidental speeches from the lady's attendants soon found that she was not married to the earl; and was not only perfectly sane, but often most cruelly treated. Her name he had never learned until the last evening, when, carrying some wine into the banqueting-room, he heard De Valence mention it to the other stranger knight. He then retired full of horror, resolving to essay her rescue himself; but the unexpected sight of the two knights in the hall determined him to reveal the case to them. "This," added Grimsby, "is my story; and whoever you are, noble lord, if you think me not unworthy your protection, grant it, and you shall find me faithful unto death."
"I owe you that, and more," replied the chief; "I am that Wallace on whose account you fled your country; and if you be willing to share the fortunes of one who may live and die in camps, I pledge you that my best destiny shall be yours." Could Grimsby in his joyful surprise have thrown himself at the feet of Wallace, he would have done so; but taking hold of the end of his scarf, he pressed it enthusiastically to his lips, and exclaimed:
"Bravest of the brave, this is beyond my prayers; to meet here the triumphant lord of Scotland! I fell innocently into disgrace; ah! how am I now exalted unto honor! My country would have deprived me of life; I am therefore dead to it, and live only to gratitude and you!"
"Then," replied Wallace, "as the first proof of the confidence I repose in you, know that the young chief who is riding forward with Lady Helen is Robert Bruce, the Prince of Scotland. Our next enterprise is to place him upon the throne of his ancestors. Meanwhile, till we license you to do otherwise, keep our names a secret, and call us by those we may hereafter think fit to assume."
Grimsby, once more reinstated in the station he deserved--that of trust and respect--no longer hung his head in abject despondency; but looking erect as one born again from disgrace, he became the active, cheerful, and faithful servant of Wallace.
During Wallace's conversation with the soldier, Helen was listening with delight to the encomiums which Bruce passed upon his friend and champion. As his eloquent tongue described the merits of Wallace, and expressed an ardent gratitude for his having so gloriously supplied his place to Scotland, Helen turned her eyes upon the prince. Before she had scarcely remarked that he was more than young and handsome; but now, while she contemplated the noble confidence which breathed in every feature, she said to herself: "This man is worthy to be the friend of Wallace! His soul is a mirror to reflect all the brightness of Wallace's; ay, like as with the sun's rays, to kindle with heaven's fire all on whom it turns."
Bruce remarked the unusual animation of her eyes as she looked at him.
"You feel all I say of Wallace," said he. And it was not a charge at which she need blush.
It was addressed to that perception of exalted worth which regards neither sex nor age. Helen did not misapprehend him. The amiable frankness of his manner seemed to open to him her heart. Wallace she adored almost as a god; Bruce she could love as a brother. It requires not time nor proof to make virtuous hearts coalesce; there is a language without sounds, a recognition, independent of the visual organ, which acknowledges the kindred of congenial souls almost in the moment they meet. "The virtuous mind knoweth its brother in the dark!" This was said by the man whose soul sympathized in every noble purpose with that of Wallace; while Helen, impelled by the same principle, and blushing with an emotion untainted by any sensation of shame, replied:
"I am too grateful to Heaven for having allowed me to witness the goodness, to share the esteem of such a being--a man whose like I have never seen."
"He is one of the few, Lady Helen," replied Bruce, "who is worthy of so august a title; and he brightly shows the image in which he was made; so humble, so dignified, so great, so lowly; so super-eminent in all accomplishments of mind and body; wise, brave, and invincible; yet forbearing, gentle, and unassuming; formed to be beloved, yet without a touch of vanity; loving all who approach him, without the least alloy of passion. Ah! Lady Helen, he is a model after which I will fashion my life; for he has written the character of the Son of God in his heart, and it shall be my study to transcribe the blessed copy into mine!"
Tears of gratitude glittered in the eye, and on the smile of Helen. To answer Bruce she found to be impossible, but that her smile and look were appreciated by him, his own told her; and stretching out his hand to her, as she put hers into his, he said:
"We are united in his heart, my sweet friend!"
At this moment Wallace joined them. He saw the action, and the animation on each countenance, and looked at Bruce with a glance of inquiry; but Bruce perceived nothing of a lover's jealousy in the look; it carried the wish of a friend to share what had impressed them with such happy traits.
"We have been talking of you," returned the prince, "and if to be beloved is a source of joy, you must be peculiarly blessed. The affections of Lady Helen and myself have met, and made your heart the altar on which we have pledged our fraternal love."
Wallace regarded each with a look of tenderness. "It is my joy to love you both like a brother, but Lady Helen must consider me as even more than that to her. I am her father's representative, I am the voice of grateful Scotland, thanking her for the preservation her generous exertions yielded! And to you, my prince, I am your friend, your subject--all that is devoted and true."
Thus enjoying the dear communion of hearts, the interchange of mind, and mingling soul with soul, did these three friends journey toward the gates of Paris. Every hour seemed an age of blessedness to Helen, so gratefully did she enjoy each passing moment of a happiness that seemed to speak of Paradise. Nature never before appeared so beautiful in her eyes, the sky was more serene, the birds sung with sweeter notes, the landscape shone in brighter charms; the fragrances of the flowers bathed her senses in the softest balm; and the very air as it breathed around her, seemed fraught with life and joy. But Wallace animated the scene; and while she fancied that she inhaled his breath in every respiration, she moved as if on enchanted ground. Oh! she could have lingered there forever! and hardly did she know what it was to draw any but sighs of bliss till she saw the towers of Paris embattling the horizon. They reminded her that she was now going to be occasionally divided from him; that when entered within those walls, it would no longer be decorous for her to pass days and nights in listening to his voice, in losing all of woman's love in the beautified affection of an angel.
This passion of the soul (if such it may be called), which has its rise in virtue and its aim the same, would be most unjustly degraded were it classed with what the herd generally entitle love. The love which men stigmatize, deride, and yet encourage, is a fancy, an infatuation, awakened by personal attraction, by--the lover knows not what, sometimes by gratified vanity, sometimes by idleness, and often by the most debasing propensities of human nature. Earthly it is, and unto earth it shall return! But love, true heaven-born love, that pure affection which unites congenial spirits here, and with which the Creator will hereafter connect in one blessed fraternity the whole kindred of mankind, has but one cause--the universal unchangeableness and immortality, a something so excellent that the simple wish to partake its essence in the union of affection, to facilitate and to share its attainment of true and lasting happiness, invigorates our virtue and inspires our souls. These are the aims and joys of real love. It has nothing selfish; in every desire it soars above this earth; and anticipates, as the ultimatum of its joy, the moment when it shall meet its partner before the throne of God. Such was the sentiment of Helen toward Wallace. So unlike what she had seen in others of the universal passion, she would hardly have acknowledged to herself that what she felt was love, had not the anticipation of even an hour's separation from him, whispered the secret to her heart.